For want of a nail, the battle was lost… In light of the recent High Court decision on IR, achieving by a single judgement what decades of campaigning could not achieve, has anyone else noticed the degree to which Australian politics is dominated not only by cliffhangers, but by downright perversity?

Consider this:

1933: Western Australia votes by a two-thirds majority to secede. Had they succeeded the resulting nation would most likely have become a right-wing, possibly apartheid style state. British government commission ultimately decides that it lacks the power to overturn 1901 act of federation – or, more cynically, that the whole legal apparatus of Australian commonwealth federalism is so tangled that no-one can work it out.

1940-49: Sydney University SRC rep and perpetual medical student Alf Conlon, appointed Colonel on outbreak of war, due to acquaintanceship with Doc Evatt. Given entire intelligence department in which Ern Malley affair is hatched, also begins process that leads to creation of Australian National University. For a time, post VJ day, runs Borneo.

1949-52: Robert Menzies tries to ban Communist Party, and government prepares plans for concentration camps for communists and other leftists to be detained in. Disallowed by High Court, with leader of ALP acting as counsel for plaintiffs. Subsequent referendum to enable passage of law rejected by 50.1% vote.

1961: Menzies government re-elected by two seats — including, allegedly, preferences, of Communists in Moreton, voting to “maximise the contradictions”. Elected member Jim Killen (or a sympathetic journalist) has to make up congratulatory telegram “Killen you are magnificent” as Ming too busy not porking Lady Fairfax to send one.

1974: Whitlam appoints DLP Senator Gair as ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See in order to shift Senate balance. Gair, lonely and isolated, is detained by National Country party senators at a beer and prawn party (the Night of the Long Prawns) so resignation is not tendered until Bjelke-Petersen issues writs for election.

1975: ALP Senator Bert Milliner dies, Bjelke-Petersen appoints anti-Whitlamite ALP member Albert Field over ALP choice Mal Colston, thus putting Senate control decisively beyond grasp.

1975: Former Trotskyist Sir John Kerr sacks Whitlam, possibly only one or two days before Liberal Senator Alan Missen and others would have crossed floor to give government supply. Kerr prorogues parliament before Speaker of House can communicate that caretaker PM Malcolm Fraser has been defeated in no-confidence motion.

1996: ALP Senator Mal Colston tempted to become independent out of pique, delivering partial Senate control to Coalition. Votes for sale of first third of Telstra.

1998: Beazley wins popular aggregate vote, defeated by distribution of them, turning Howard from possible greatest mistake in Australian history to natural leader of etc etc.

2004: ALP genius authorises preferences to Family First, who win with 1.9% and give government majority on media ownership changes.

2006: High Court completes dialectical synthesis of centralised Australian government.

And that’s not even counting the normal abnormal events such as the 1954 split + Petrov double whammy, the 1969 surprise result, the shenanigans on the 1987 and Joh-for-Canberra push, Tampa and 9/11 etc etc.

Australian political history is farce without the tragedy. Discuss.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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